In the Belly of the Beast. On the Force-Feeding of
Servitude in Plato’s Republic
Dr Richard Iveson
This talk reconsiders the place of nonhuman animals in the constitution of a democratic
community by way of Plato’s Republic. While an unlikely choice given the contempt
expressed for democracy and nonhuman animals both, Plato’s phobia of animals ultimately compels us put into question two truisms of contemporary existence: first, that philosophy and politics are uniquely human concerns; and, second, that we already inhabit a democratic society.
As citizens and labourers of a new millennium, I suggest instead that Western society
typically accords far more with Plato’s ancient blueprint of the Republic, according to which every labouring body, in order to ‘tame’ its base animal flesh, must be forcibly given to
swallow the ‘Guardian’ of its own servitude. This Guardian has only one function: to
safeguard the power, wealth and privilege of the minority ruling class against the instinct for democratic freedoms shared by every animal, human and nonhuman alike, and the surging animal mass to which it gives rise.
This democratic instinct terrifies Plato, who identifies even the most meagre display of
sensitivity towards other animals as constituting the first step along the path of insurgency, insofar as an increase in sensitivity toward disparity and injustice inevitably brings the
potential for violent revolution along with it. By subsequently insisting that humanity even further harden its heart against the intense suffering and callous exploitation of nonhuman animals for the sole reason of maintaining obscene disparities of power and privilege, Plato’s Republic does indeed become a cornerstone of the Western tradition.
In contrast to such calculated in sensitivity, however, if we are ever to engage rigorously with the notion of democracy, we must rather pay heed to precisely this dangerous ‘instinct’ for freedom such as revealed in the first instance by the intimacy of our animal relationships.
Dr Richard Iveson is from the University of Queensland, the centre for Critical and Cultural Studies. His teaching and research interests include animal studies and
animal liberation; Continental philosophy (with focus on Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida); posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture;
post-Marxism; political activism; pedagogy and the university; SF; and the trope of the fantastic.